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'They Still See Us': A New Poem by Lois Red Elk

The Dakota/Lakota poet writes of walking the paths of four directions with humility and honor

"Many-Drums Moon," an original oil painting by John Potter. As an indigenous artist, Potter, like Red Elk, celebrates all life forms. To see more of his work, go to
"Many-Drums Moon," an original oil painting by John Potter. As an indigenous artist, Potter, like Red Elk, celebrates all life forms. To see more of his work, go to
EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day that a poem arrives from Lois Red Elk is a delight. Out on the prairie where recent bison transplants from Yellowstone are adapting to their new home as members of  the Fort Peck herd, Red Elk members "their return" to former homelands late last summer. She was among community members who greeted them with honoring songs and prayer. 

Red Elk has been doing a lot of musing about ancestry and the endurance of people over time with the Covid-19 challenge being just the latest. What are the secrets to perseverance? She says it starts with a kind of remembering based on making a pledge never to forget—and to walk forward on paths leading to knowledge and culture and history as a kind of unspoken act of faith.

"My parents were very spiritual people in the Dakota/Lakota sense and lived their daily lives with prayer and good deeds," she writes in a note from the near the place where the Mighty Missouri River enters the Fort Peck Reservoir which is really akin to small ocean in the middle of treeless high plains. 

"They told me that they were charged with carrying out the traditions of their people. Despite the constant government laws and policies against our people in the years they lived (the 1920's, 30's and 40's) all they cherished in their lives was their traditional, spiritual and cultural ways," she notes. 

"They maintained a daily respect for the creator, sacred spirits, ancestors and the Grandfathers and Grandmothers. I always feel so grateful to have seen this continuation of honor in my life. It is through their lives that I write my poetry and because that is all I know."

It's a powerful notion looking back in time, pondering the possibility that Red Elk's ancestors may have crossed paths somewhere with the ancestors of the bison from Yellowstone that cleared quarantine from brucellosis testing and rather than being hunted along the park border or sent to slaughter were given a fresh start in grasslands inhabited by bison for thousands of years. 

On the day her new poem arrived, she shared word that the Rosebud Sioux tribe intends to create America's largest native-owned and managed bison herd.  "This makes me so happy, I want to cry," Lois wrote. "We’re coming full circle!"

Enjoy Red Elk's new poem, They Still See Us that will be included in a forthcoming volume. —Mountain Journal Eds
They Still See Us 

by Lois Red Elk

 We have lived on numerous levels of 
 past lives, from creation prayers with 
 the breath of the Great Spirit, from our
 life with stars to the star we call our 
Maka Ina, Mother Earth. The sacred
 Grandfathers and Grandmothers led us 
 for millions of years through fire and
 underground paths, from angels to 
 neutrinos, from buffalo lives to the 
 common man. The hallowed Grandfathers
 and Grandmother have seen us safely
 through cleansing waters, to the present 
 existence, and we are still not done with
 this earth walking. The loving Grandfathers
 and Grandmothers still see us walking holy, 
 still see us walking the paths of the four
 directions. They have shown us the yellow
 path, the way of prayer, love and truth. 
 They have shown us the red path, the way
of respect, compassion and perseverance. 
They  have shown us the black path the way of 
fortitude, sacrifice and generosity. They
 have shown us the white path the way of 
 wisdom, honor and humility. The eternal 
 Grandfathers and Grandmothers still see
us from the sacred circle into our never 
 ending spirit. And, one day they will see
 us continuing to the blessing of our first 
 lives in the every lasting cosmos. 

 ©Lois Red Elk


In "The Mighty Return Of Tatanka," Red Elk shares a poem about the spirit of buffalo after watching Yellowstone bison released at Fort Peck in 2019.

Lois Red Elk-Reed
About Lois Red Elk-Reed

Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Mountain Journal's poet in residence.
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